The Agon of Call and Response

I remember it from the movie as a devastating truth-telling moment but on the page it seems to fall flat. Harold's speech to Michael in The Boys in the Band by Mart Crowley:

You are a sad and pathetic man. You're a homosexual and you don't want to be. But there is nothing you can do to change it. Not all your prayers to your God, not all the analysis you can buy in all the years you've got left to live. You may very well one day be able to know a heterosexual life if you want it desperately enough — if you pursue it with the fervor with which you annihilate — but you will always be homosexual as well. Always. Michael. Always. Until the day you die.
What sets this up is the game frame.

     [Calmly, coldly, clinically]

Now it is my turn. And ready or not, Michael, here goes.

     [A beat]

You are a sad and pathetic man. You're a homosexual and you don't want to be. But there is nothing you can do to change it. Not all your prayers to your God, not all the analysis you can buy in all the years you've got left to live. You may very well one day be able to know a heterosexual life if you want it desperately enough — if you pursue it with the fervor with which you annihilate — but you will always be homosexual as well. Always. Michael. Always. Until the day you die.
Ready or not - sounds like the declaration from a children's game. But as set up earlier the stakes are high. There was an exchange of warnings between Michael and Harold in which Harold declares

Are you now? Are you warning me? Me? I'm Harold. I'm the one person you don't warn, Michael. Because you and I are a match. And we tread very softly with each other because we both play each other's game too well. And I play it very well. You play it very well too. But you know what, I'm the only one that's better at it than you are. I can beat you at it. So don't push me. I'm warning you.
Well worth noting that Michael's reaction is to laugh. The querying of laughter is part of Harold's entrance. Michael asks "What's so fucking funny?" and Harold replies "Life. Life is a goddam laff-riot. You remember life." The laughter circulates across characters and across the play's divide of acts (Harold is laughing at the end of Act 1 and is still laughing at the beginning of Act 2 — a peculiar temporal hiatus the film cannot replicate).

Already combative from the entrance... Harold's reply to Michael's accusation of being late and being stoned is a model of self-acceptance (the power of his game playing).
What I am, Michael, is a thirty-two-year-old, ugly, pockmarked Jew fairy — and if it takes me a while to pull myself together and if I smoke a little grass before I can get up the nerve to show this face to the world, it's nobody's goddam business but my own.

     [Instant switch to chatty tone]

And how are you this evening?
That later salvo seems a little less flat given the set up. The power of self-deprecation carries through.

And so for day 2442

Skipping and Slinging

Neil Gaiman
Forward to Shaun Tan The Singing Bones

There are stories, honed by the retelling, simplified by the people who recorded them and transmitted them, old stories, with the edges rubbed off them, like the pebbles on a beach, each story the perfect size and heft to send skimming over the water or to use to strike an enemy.
Not so far off as these are Grimm offerings....

And so for day 2441

Decidedly Dedicated

for the family,
related and unrelated,
living and dead
Joyce Nelson. Dedication to Battlefronts (Toronto: Coach House Press, 1977).

And so for day 2440

Tension and the Cinematic Checklist

1935 Movie Tale of Two Cities

Just prior to the beginning of the dramatic action of the film, a written "Bibliography" is presented that cites the following books: The French Revolution by Thomas Carlyle, Journal of the Temple by M. Clery, The Memoirs of Mlle. des Echerolles and The Memoirs of M. Nicholas.

Could this last piece be the following?

Monsieur Nicolas, ou Le Cœur humain dévoilé, est un ouvrage autobiographique écrit par Nicolas Edme Restif de La Bretonne et paru en 1796-1797.

There is a 1930 English edition:

Monsieur Nicolas, or, The human heart unveiled translated by R Crowdy Mathers with an introduction by Havelock Ellis (London : John Rodker, 1930).

Havelock Ellis provides often amusing insight into the contradictions of the author an this century.

[on setting regulations for brothels] To the end Restif cherished his moral enthusiasm in this cause. His friend Bonneville once reproached him with describing too minutely the pleasures of prostitution. Restif defended himself. "Yes," he said with heat, "I am the friend and protector of these houses treated with such contempt. I would far rather go to see a pretty courtesan than make a baby with the wife of my friend or my neighbour." I do not dispute Restif's honesty, but the method he so highly approved had never saved him from making love copiously in the houses of friends and neighbours, and he seems to have exaggerated the number of babies he thus made.


Since men possess both moral impulses and immoral impulses it may well be that it is precisely this harmonious combination of the two which gives the eighteenth century in one of its numerous aspects, — "that atrocious eighteenth century," as Hugel used to call it, — the high rank it takes as a manifestation of the human spirit. Restif, whose devotion to the moral happiness of mankind we cannot doubt, and to whose own fundamental goodness all who knew him testify, yet lived and moved and had his whole being from first to last in an atmosphere which was, pungently and luridly, immoral. With his morbidly sensitive and impetuous temperament he was able to carry this seemingly incompatible combination to so high a point of extravagance that even the eighteenth century itself was sometimes shocked.
Intrigued to view the film again with this tension in mind ...

And so for day 2439


Natalie Zemon Davis. A Life of Learning Charles Homer Haskins Lecture for 1997. (American Council of Learned Societies, ACLS Occasional Paper No. 39)

When it came time to pack up my 100s of 3 x 5 cards, I realized that I had a powerful memory association with the Lyon archives, one that I would have many times again whenever I worked in a local archival setting. The room itself became closely identified with the traces of the past I was examining: the smell of its old wood, the shape of its windows, the sounds from the cobblestone streets or running stream. The room was a threshold in which I would meet papers that had once been handled and written on by the people of the past. The room was like Alice's mirror, the Narnia wardrobe, or — to give the Huron metaphor — the mysterious hole under the roots of a tree through which one falls for a time into another world.
For more on the Huron metaphor, see her article "Iroquois women, European women" in American encounters : natives and newcomers from European contact to Indian removal, 1500-1850 edited by Peter C. Mancall, James H. Merrell (New York : Routledge, 2007) or Women, 'race,' and writing in the early modern period edited by Margo Hendricks and Patricia Parker (London ; New York : Routledge, 1994)
Models for abrupt change were also available. One was metamorphosis, the sudden and repeated change from bear to man to bear. [...] A second model was the sudden fall to a totally different world. The first fall was at creation, when the pregnant woman Aataentisic plunged from the sky through the hole under the roots of a great tree (according to one version recounted to the Jesuit Brébeuf), landed on the back of a great turtle in the waters of this world, and after dry land had been created, gave birth to the deity Yoscaha and his twin brother. Falls through holes, especially holes under trees, are the birth canals to experiences in alternative worlds in many an Indian narrative.*
*Brébeuf, JR [Jesuit Relations] 19:126-9. Erodes and Ortiz discuss the "fall through a hole" as a motif in American Indian Myths and Legends 75, and there are several examples analysed in Lévi-Strauss Histoire de lynx.
And so we plunge ...

And so for day 2438

Ever Ready To Converse

In the Penguin Books Great Ideas series, Seneca On the Shortness of Life translated by C.D.N. Costa.

You should rather suppose that those are involved in worthwhile duties who wish to have daily as their closest friends Zeno, Pythagoras, Democritus and all the other high priests of liberal studies, and Aristotle and Theophrastus. None of these will be too busy to see you, none of these will not send his visitor away happier or more devoted to himself, none of these will allow anyone to depart empty-handed. They are at home to all mortals by night and by day.
Cover of Penguin Seneca
The cover design supplies an additional message: Life is Long If You Know How to Use It.

And so for day 2437

Ever Green In the Archive

From ad copy from the London Review of Books

Spring is here, but the LRB, like cypress, pine, fir, cedar, spruce, hemlock, juniper, eucalyptus and magnolia trees, is evergreen. Which is to say that pieces and issues from a month, or a year, or a decade ago can be as riveting and unmissable as last week’s.
I like the enumeration that leads to the comparison. It reminds me of Chaucer and the trees listed in The Parliament of Fowls
The byldere ok, and ek the hardy asshe;
The piler elm, the cofre unto carayne;
The boxtre pipere, holm to whippes lashe;
The saylynge fyr; the cipresse, deth to playne;
The shetere ew; the asp for shaftes pleyne;
The olyve of pes, and eke the dronke vyne;
The victor palm, the laurer to devyne.
From The Riverside Chaucer

In our climate magnolia shed their leaves (here in Toronto).

And so for day 2436


Tugging at my reading of this aphorism is the title of a book of interviews with Michel Foucault: Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972-1977

Reading is knowledge, but writing is power.

Dave Eggers

From an interview in The Guardian
Power comes before knowledge. Reading is a form of power. Parsing. Decisions about how to traverse the textual space. If reading is on the side of acquisition and writing, distribution, wherefore that "but"? Who reads without writing?

Learning to read and learning to handle a pencil (punch a screen) are contemporaneous. Pointing is their foundation. Pointing and vocalization lead to the mutual imbrications of power and knowledge.

And so for day 2435

fragile tissue of time

Parenthesis 31
The Journal of The Fine Press Book Association
"First Principles, Second Thoughts and Final Answers"
Robert Bringhurst

[p. 35]

Writing encyclopedia articles pays very poorly when it pays at all. Yet the challenge posed by the genre — stating all the essentials of a subject with the greatest possible clarity in the shortest possible space — has tempted many writers. So has the intangible reward: the short-lived, giddy illusion that one has attained the status of Recognized Authority. These considerations or others tempted Stanley Morison when the editors of the Encyclopedia Britannnica asked him to contribute to their 14th edition, published in 1929. He was assigned three subjects: Calligraphy, Printing Type, and Typography.

Morison viewed the undertaking through a narrow lens. His was the only discussion of calligraphy in the entire encyclopedia, yet he neglected even to mention that calligraphy existed in Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Turkish, or Persian. In the other two articles, he also gave no hint that books had been handsomely printed from moveable type in China and Korea before Gutenberg.


[The Typography article ...]
It began with the finest Morisonism of all and continued with an admission that there was not just one right answer after all:
The printer must never distract, even with beauty, the reader from his text. In the printing of books there is less room for individuality of style than in the typography of propaganda. The laws of typography in books intended for general circulation are based upon (a) the essential nature of alphabetical writing; (b) the force of tradition. But strict as the conventions are, there is not, and never can be, a rigid character to typography applicable to all books printed in Roman types. The strength of tradition expresses itself in the details of book arrangement and these vary widely. Certain laws of linear composition are, however, obeyed by all printers who use the Roman letter.

[p. 39]

Van Krimpen's own form of eloquence lay just next door to writing: in calligraphy and in the designing of type and books. Like Morison, he was searching for the One Right Answer, the one that would nail history down and show the rest of us the error of our ways — but van Krimpen's answers were visual rather than verbal [...] His type is of lasting value, like Morison's prose, because of that search. What he found was never exactly what he was looking for. It was never the One Right Answer, but it was very often one of the many right answers. Again and again he captured something timeless, weaving both it and himself into the fragile tissue of time.
Interesting how a discourse on a specialized context of craft turns to universal considerations of pursuit and making in the ethical milieu of a commitment to value.

And so for day 2434

Look Alike

No moustache in one. No glasses in the other. Still they look alike.

harry duncan northrop frye
Illustration of Harry Duncan by Jack McMaster — Parenthesis 31 Photograph of Northrop Frye by Fred Phipps — Toronto Star, July 13, 2012

And so for day 2433

Michael Anthony on Quince

V is for Vegetable: Inspired Recipes & Techniques for Home Cooks- from Artichokes to Zucchini

Each section of this alphabetically arranged book begins with a quotation and illustration.

"Quince, in my book, is an honorary vegetable."
— Michael Anthony, V is for Vegetables
I love the self referential character of this quotation.

michael anthony on quince

And so for day 2432

We Marched for Love and Pride

For a Friend... "Somewhere else, someone else is crying too / Another man has lost a friend, I bet he feels the way I do"

The Communards - For A Friend (Official Video)
Songwriters: James Somerville / Richard Coles

And all the dreams we had, I will carry on
As I watch the sun go down, watching the world fade away
All the memories of you come rushing back to me
As I watch the sun go down, watching the world fade away
All I want to do is kiss you once goodbye, goodbye
As I watch the sun go down, watching the world fade away
All the memories of you come rushing back to me
As I watch the sun go down, a darkness comes to me
All I want to do is kiss you once goodbye
In memory of Mark Ashton

Jamie Doward writing in The Guardian about the film Pride speculates:
Pride shows how disparate groups of gay and lesbian people were inspired by Ashton, a gay man from Portrush in County Antrim, who was an active member of the Young Communist League, a fact overlooked in the film, apparently so as not to alienate American audiences.
As I watch the sun go down...


And so for day 2431

Two Takes on Two Cultures

Same material revisited at intervals -- the C.P. Snow 1959 Rede lecture (The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution) and the F.R. Leavis 1962 Richmond lecture (The Two Cultures?).

Two concluding paragraphs

From a Parliamentarian on the 40th anniversary -- Dr Ian Gibson -- all about seeking consensus

Agreements, even temporary, preliminary ones, will only be achieved if contributors have to play according to rules that reach beyond the different forms of knowledge. Just like MPs, everyone taking part in a public debate should be forced to declare any interests they might have that could influence their judgement. What we need to solve our dilemmas are not the so-called objective technicians CP Snow dreamt of, but improved rules of public discourse.
From a literary critic on the 50th anniversary -- Stefan Collini -- all about debunking
From one point of view, Leavis might not seem an obvious recruit to any putative "slow criticism" movement. As he himself wryly notes, one Italian periodical described him as "puritano frenetico", and the intense, combative address of his printed voice does not at first conjure up the process by which the patient accretion of alternative descriptions, almost geological in the pace of its operation, modifies existing sensibilities. Anger operates at a faster tempo, and the Richmond lecture is a deeply angry performance. But closer familiarity with his much-remarked upon syntax suggests that it should be seen as, precisely, a straining against the limits of sequential exposition in the interests of recognising the simultaneity and inter-relatedness of considerations that are flattened by others into blandly self-contained propositions, which in turn congeal into cliche. To be disturbed into an awareness (however uneasy or resistant) of this process is to start to register the power of his critical voice. In these terms, perhaps Leavis's lecture, whatever its flaws, may still be thought to have a claim on our attention, even if opinion remains divided over whether it should be considered a minor classic of cultural criticism.
Public discourse needs improving -- is that a cliche?

And so for day 2430


The stone speaks: a reverse Pygmalion effect since the sculptor is being sculpted.

Creative Relationship

When her words
like the blows
from a sculptor's hammer

trying to fashion
her inspiration
of me

I turn to stone
George Swede
Tell Tale Feathers

And so for day 2429

Unplucked by the Copy Editor

The Gardens of Emily Dickinson by Judith Farr sports a close up of the stamens of a daylily on its cover and a fragment from Dickinson (1058) "Bloom — is Result" (in Emily's hand?)

It is up close that some differences are noticed.

I was delighted in my reading to come across a paragraph (bloom) almost duplicated on the same page (p. 78).
With the rise of interest in highly specialized flower gardens of sophisticated cultivars, oil portraits of women both before and long after the Civil War depicted them in the presence of luxurious blooms.


With the rise of interest in highly specialized flower gardens of elegant cultivars, oil portraits of women immediately before and after the Civil War envisioned them in the presence of luxurious blooms.
This is a record of the paragraph-blooms in situ.

Dickinson (1058) ends with a dash —
To be a Flower, is profound
Responsibility —
One sports "sophisticated" where the other displays "elegant". And can one detect a pruning hand where "long after" is reprised as simply "after"? Where "depicting" becomes "envisioning" here gardening/writing takes on the domain of music and variations on a theme.

And so for day 2428

After Bashō

I believe this pond poem is after Bashō: George Swede from Tell Tale Feathers.

A scan.

A transcription.
         Summer Afternoon

The bullfrog
                     the green pond
                          one eye

               goes back to sleep 
A machine-readable string.
Summer Afternoon The bullfrog leaps the green pond opens one eye and goes back to sleep
Keeping on rippling...

And so for day 2427

Building Taste

From a note to my niece who is now employed in the food industry.

I thought of you the other day and how your tastes have evolved. A friend's report of their expanding set of grandchildren reminded me of my own father's delight in his grandchildren. One of his favourite exercises of grandfatherly prerogative was introducing young palates to new foodstuffs (much to the consternation of my mother when very spicy items were involved — she feared for delicate stomachs). He helped build many happy memories of the first steps, first words and those first reactions to novel tastes. (I think I owe him my fondness for salted black liquorice.)

Wishing you many more food adventures.
I used to loathe cooked celery. Now I find its grassy note welcome. I also now like my coffee two ways: black and unsweetened or Vietnamese candy-style with sweetened condensed milk. I also with age tolerate bitter better even seek it out in endive. I have fallen heavily for the umami flavour of uni (sea urchin). And I remember to smell before and during tasting.

And so for day 2426

In Lights

Canadian Opera Company brochure: front and back.

a voice can break your heart or it can show you the answer
or it can show you the answer a voice can break your heart
Gertrude Stein's last words are reputed to be “What is the answer?… In that case … what is the question?”
What Is Remembered (1963) by Alice B. Toklas

And so for day 2425

Signatures, Covers, Samples

Style brought to you by the hand. By the ear. By the eye. By the mind.

George Swede's signature is tight and compact like his talent for short verse forms such as haiku and tanka. Jan Zwicky's signature is aswish with an almost Renaissance flourish and signifies nicely her musicality.

george swede signature jan zwicky signature
george swede Tell Tale Feathers jan zwicky Art of Fugue

I am unwinding
like a ball
of red wool
between the paws
of a black cat

from all angles
this way
and that
I am leaving behind
a thin trail
of yarn
full of frays
and tangles

from Tell Tale Feathers - Fiddlehead Poetry Books No. 229, 1978
A room, a table, and four chairs.
The chairs are made of wood,
the floor is wood,
the walls are bare. But windowed.
West light, east light. And a scent
like cedar in the air. Here, the self
will sit down with the self.
Now it will say
what it has to say. It looks
into its own eyes. Listens.

from Art of Fugue - Vallum Chapbook Series No. 6, 2009.

And so for day 2424

Strands and Tiles

Interlacing two strands the picture is explained by two lines below.

elana schlenker poster

Great things are done by a series
of small things brought together.
Created during a residency at the Facebook Analog Research Lab by Elena Schlenker
and found on the cover of a colouring book wherein one finds among the offerings a repeating pattern of strawberries.

elana schlenker strawberries

And so for day 2423